2013 was a year in which Sebastian Vettel won his fourth straight world title in his all-conquering Red Bull Racing RB9. It was also a season of other wondrous and laudable achievements by some less heralded names; a time of maverick, episodic demonstration of talent from others; and a period of head-scratching lack of competitiveness amongst some of the rest. Here, forumula1.com presents its review of the year in five categories – Highly Commended, Commended, Good Job, Could Have Done Better and the dreaded What Went Wrong?!
-> Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing
It would be churlish not to put Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing into this top category just because they’d bored everyone to tears by the end of the season. As has been noted on this website, Vettel’s brilliance deserves loud and long recognition. The man himself remarked over the radio in Austin that these days won’t last for ever, and it will be a thankful fan of the sport that agrees with him. Vettel and Newey, though, together with Rocquelin and Horner, are four names that are now engraved on the sport in a way that few others have ever been. See the nine wins on the trot from Spa to Interlagos; remember too the three hat tricks of win, pole and fastest lap in Singapore, Korea and the US. Driver and team, we salute you.
-> Nico Hulkenberg
Difficult as it may be to put anyone else alongside the world champion in terms of performance this year, Hulkenberg may just merit it. He produced miracle after miracle, particularly after Pirelli’s reversion to the Kevlar-belted tyre that suited his Sauber rather better than its early 2013 incarnation. The German’s run at the end of the season – scarcely credible finishes in fourth in Korea, fifth in Italy (after qualifying an astounding third) and sixth in the US (after qualifying fourth) might well have been the result of a fire lit under his seat by the current climate of pay-driver-gets-good-seat-and-talented-other-German-gets-sweet-fanny-adams. They are no less brilliant for it, though.
-> Romain Grosjean
A competitor whose very name had become a byword for incident and catastrophe, Grosjean takes the award for Most Improved this season. Some said it was fatherhood; others hazarded at his increased standing in the team as it became clearer that the Raikkonen relationship was souring. Whatever the cause, by season’s end Grosjean was the second best driver in the game on the basis of form (this might be because Raikkonen wasn’t there and Hamilton and Alonso were bored rigid). Of the Frenchman’s six podiums, four came in the last six races. A talent that is just beginning to sparkle.
-> Fernando Alonso
Not a stellar year for Alonso, though that is admittedly measured by his stratospheric standards. On the plus side, he again virtually single-handedly took Ferrari into a world championship tussle in which it had no business being. He won beautifully in China; he produced the overtake of the year around the outside of no less than the likes of Hamilton and Raikkonen in his habitually turbocharged home race; he manfully, heroically and repeatedly finished as high as he could to take the futile battle to Vettel as far as it would go. Why not Highly Commended, then, Podmore? Because of four words: ‘La macchina degli altri’ – ‘the others’ car’, when asked what he wanted for his July birthday. Fernando, you can’t really say that as a Ferrari driver, old man. It doesn’t go down well.
-> Mercedes – Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton too
A vast improvement on 2012, the Anglo-German concern will be relieved to say. Three wins in Monaco, Britain and Hungary, and a respectable stab at the title, even if two things were obvious by, say, Monza; firstly that Vettel was going to win the title and secondly that the Silver Arrows were very much aimed over the horizon, pointing not in the direction of the elusive energy drink billboard but at 2014. Rosberg could have panicked with the glamour boy coming in, and he didn’t, though he’ll be disappointed finishing two spots down on him in the final standings. Hamilton adjusted fairly well to the new environment and was consistent if occasionally distressingly slower than we’re used to seeing. An interim year of which they can be quietly proud.
-> Kimi Raikkonen
As perhaps befits the man, there really isn’t much to say about this Finnish chap. He’s very fast, he is one of the best in the business, but he doesn’t like not being paid. Fair enough. He would have finished higher up the standings had it not been for back trouble.
But his team, meanwhile, deserve just as much credit. They did an outstanding job in what Ron Dennis might have called a minimal resource era, never more pressing than when their star driver wasn’t getting his emoluments and all of their futures were looking uncertain. That E21 was a neat car and they worked solidly at improving and servicing it, providing their drivers with excellent tools in the meantime. In another year they might have been world champions.
-> Mark Webber
In his valedictory year, a decent support act from the Australian that helped his team walk away with the constructors’ trophy. Malaysia seemed to break his spirit and fans’ desire to see him throw caution to the wind and put the wind up Vettel was shown, by mid-season, to be a forlorn hope rather than a realistic expectation. Despite his weaknesses (set-up, qualifying, starts) he has been a solid performer, Mark; a driver blessed on his day with the ability to stun his opposition. This year didn’t see too much of that, but it did see an honourable man, a credit to the pit lane. Adieu, Aussie Grit.
-> Jules Bianchi
It’s not often that you see Jules Bianchi, watching F1 either at the racetrack or on television. He isn’t what you might call noteworthy, as drivers in his position usually aren’t, sadly enough. What he is, though, is quick, and regularly at the top of that mini-league of drivers at the back of the grid. Ferrari must have an option on him for 2015 when the Raikkonen-Alonso time bomb goes boom, you’d have thought.
-> Force India
A team with the opposite problem to Sauber – they and their orange and green machine really liked the steel-belted Pirellis and as they were replaced the team’s competitiveness accordingly dropped. Nevertheless, to come top of the midfield (i.e. outside the big four) is a worthy feat in a very hostile environment.
-> Valterri Bottas
In his rookie year in the sport, young Bottas has already shown us what a good driver he is. A crap car notwithstanding, he produced a miraculous third on the grid in the qualifying session in Canada and was doggedly consistent in all the races, habitually finishing just outside the points (which is pretty much what his machinery would permit), driving to a great eighth in America and frequently having the better of his highly-rated (by the Venezuelan government) team mate.
Could Have Done Better
-> Felipe Massa and Ferrari
The former is in this category because based on his performances when he was sacked by Ferrari, he manifestly can (do better, that is). A very frustrating thing to see, that, when fans and journos alike believe that you are giving your utmost and then you suddenly find another two or three-tenths of performance when your future doesn’t look quite so secure. As for his team, despite the biggest budget in the game and the best driver, they have again failed to win the world title. Next year will have to be an improvement because on the basis of 2013, heads should roll in Maranello.
They fall into this damned category because of their British GP horror show, which thankfully did not result in any injury. But in mitigation it may be said that the poor tyre manufacturer is operating in an environment in which there are various forces pulling this way and that, hither and yon, not least of which the rights’ holder’s demand that their product be flimsy (not a great advertising message, that). Somewhere in the middle for next year, please, Pirelli.
-> Jenson Button (yup) and Sergio Perez (apparently)
Button’s sad face (a long-missed relic from his Benetton, BAR and Honda days) returned early in 2013 when it became clear that he would be effectively driving a Lada for the year. Rather than knuckling down and grinding out the odd amazing result (as you could imagine a Lewis, for example, doing), he had a season of Button mediocrity, a sole fourth in Brazil the only really recognisable performance. It might be his name on the cull list for 2015 if he doesn’t watch out. Meanwhile, the other side of the garage, Perez has been put into this category by virtue of his sacking from the team. Curiously, the Woking concern obviously feel that he wasn’t trashing their lead driver convincingly enough. Although they may be made to eat their words, there certainly weren’t many edifying spectacles from the Mexican.
-> Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil
Slightly unlucky, in football parlance – which means not feasting at the top table, drinking from the golden goblet, nor singing the catchy refrain. They both flattered to deceive in 2013 at a time when a year of anonymity can very easily spell the end of one’s F1 career. A pity, because neither is your everyday journeyman.
-> Giedo van der Garde and the other Marussia and Caterham chauffeurs
Van der Garde did actually look at times this year to be half-decent. The others – who can tell? Given their budgets and constraints, twould be unfair – no, downright mean – to wallop them into the What Went Wrong?! group of doom. No doubt improvement is an earnestly-desired concept amongst these teams and their helmeted charges, however.
-> Toro Rosso and their two earnest caffeine-and-sugar-promoting proteges
Yes, could have done better, and here’s why: Sebastian Vettel won a race in a Toro Rosso once. So they could have done better, if they were Sebastian Vettel and it rained a lot and things went their way. In all seriousness, this is a team that is often presented as a project by its affable team principal Franz Tost and others, but in reality they are a small team whose purpose is to evaluate food for the beast. As such it would be very nice if they did better, but one isn’t terribly surprised when they don’t do very well and it doesn’t matter very much.
Is Mr Ecclestone as bulletproof as he seemed even a year ago? The sport needs focus and direction from someone.
-> The spectacle
Nuff said, but Jesus God sometimes it was eye-bleedingly yawn.
-> Heikki Kovalainen
No super-sub, he.
What Went Wrong?!
-> The avowedly British teams – McLaren and Williams
Here is a miserable tale of woe//One with some money, the other with no//Both made machines, built here, to go fast//But both of their cars left the grid with no chance! The rhyme could go on, but the reason doesn’t extend as far. McLaren should cop the brunt of the criticism as they are the ones with the better facilities, funding and brainpower (yes, even the last, even with sacking a virtual rookie for another untried rookie), but as was admitted when I visited the MTC in the summer, once they’ve gone down the one road so far, they’ve lost so much ground that catching up is virtually impossible. Then it becomes all about the following year, a luxury which Williams literally cannot afford. Many more seasons like this one could see the end of the illustrious concern, an eventuality which is earnestly to be prayed against.
-> Most South American racing drivers
Not a total annus horribilis for our friends Perez and Massa above, as has been said. But their lights shine very bright when compared to Esteban Gutierrez and Pastor Maldonado. Neither talentless, both come across very well as pleasant young men. They are merely symptomatic of the post-financial crisis malaise. Rarely can it have been so obvious in F1’s history, though, that their chequebooks say more than their performances can.